When they came to me, John Thompson and Partners, architects specialising in urban planning, were living through tough times. We were post financial crash, and like everyone, they were under pressure to secure new projects.
Two or three years earlier I had written all of the signage for their new building. Now I was asked to cast my eyes over a short brochure that had been put together internally. I heard a comment I have heard many times… “just do your magic”. But so often the ‘magic’, which seems to be a surface thing, is hidden deep in the structure. This wasn’t doing these brilliant architects justice, and “magic” here meant an overhaul or nothing. I asked if we could talk more about who this brochure was for. And what it meant to that person as they weighed up a choice. And on what criteria decisions were made… The argument needed laying out more carefully. Like one of their communities.
What we did
Long, intense interviews with a pair of senior partners later and the scale of the job was clear. I went away and wrote their story, based on what change they wanted to see and how it could take place… and did so without any format in mind. Just to get a true narrative out there to work with. They created new places and breathed life into old ones. I laid out their methodology, Collaborative Placemaking, split into three phases, understanding, engaging and creating. First theory, and then practice, real stories as proof of it working out there in the world. We collaborated, edited, refined together. By the time it was done it was more of a book than a brochure. The designers, Hat-Trick, were understandably nervous. Would people read it?
I never doubted they would. Because when you’re commissioning a whole new development or neighbourhood or town, so much is at stake, you need so much reassurance that you’re making the right decision. It wasn’t a soundbite or pamphlet decision. The depth of this piece gave JTP authority and credibility. Thankfully, it did get read.
What happened next
It got read internally as well as externally. In fact, it turned out that these new words were as important for engaging and activating people employed by the practice as they were for prospective clients.
A decade later and JTP are nearly double the size, having won a string of awards. They are undoubtedly the leader in their field. Quite obviously I didn’t do this, they’re brilliant architects and thinkers who work bloody hard… but the brilliance was somehow given form, an energy channel to run down that made it easier for positive changes to keep accumulating. It’s a happy and highly creative place to work, and they care deeply about the schemes they create, which thrive because of the way that people in them are engaged. They were the BD Best Architect Employer of the Year, 2019.
The line about creating new places and breathing life into old ones was never meant to be a strapline. But it resonated and was eventually organically adopted as one. It even adorns the lunch bags people use to reduce their plastic waste. JTP has just bought, redesigned and moved into a new studio, Pennington Street Warehouse, and I was proud to have been commissioned to write the story of that. It’s not yet been published, but I’ll post some of it here when it is. It’s the living embodiment of their philosophy, and it’s some building, I can tell you.